Jailhouse Praise

Jimmy and Dave found a sink hole that seemed to appear out of nowhere one day. The hole was on a path they usually traveled to go to Mr. Earl’s pond where they would fish for sunfish and perch. In the summertime they traveled that path often and the day they found the hole, they knew it was a new one because it was right in the middle of the path.

Being typical boys, their first instinct was to look in the hole and see just how deep it really was. It was too deep and dark for them to see anything, but if they yelled real loud they would get an echo that was better than those you would hear out at the Grand Canyon.

However, the fun level soon dropped dramatically after a long period of hollering in a hole and the two boys now turned their attention to checking the depth of the hole by dropping things into the limestone darkness.
It was a very scientific process. They would drop a rock into the hole and count the seconds until they heard the rock hit the bottom. There was only one problem. The hole was so deep they could not hear the rock hit the bottom.

Their fun now turned into work as they dropped huge boulders, tree stumps, and whatever they could find into the sink hole, still with no success of hearing a sound from their efforts.

They were now desperate to find a bottom to the hole. As they looked for larger items to push into the sink hole, Jimmy found a railroad tie in the undergrowth near the path. The two summer tanned boys with all their might dragged and pushed the railroad tie to the hole and slowly let it fall into the darkness. As they waited for the sure sound of a crash to the bottom, they were amazed at the sudden appearance of a white goat running from the undergrowth where they found the railroad tie. The goat ran right past the startled boys and went immediately into the darkness of the sink hole.

In total shock Jimmy and Dave moved slowly to the edge of the hole and looked in. All they saw was settling dust, darkness and heard absolutely nothing.

From behind them, Mr. Earl was coming up the well traveled path and as he approached the now pale boys, he asked them if they had seen a goat along the way.

“Funny you should ask,” said Dave with his eyes as large as china saucers. “We have just seen a goat and it did the strangest thing, too!”

“Yeah,” answered Jimmy and pointing to the hole in the path, “A goat just ran out of those woods over there and jumped in this hole for no apparent reason, less than a minute ago.”

Seeming somewhat confused Mr. Earl smiled at the boys and said, “Well, that must not have been my goat. You see, my goat was tied with a long rope to a railroad tie.” (Tenessee Farm Bureau, September 2000)

That’s funny, huh? While this supposedly true story gleaned from the September 2000 issue of the Tennessee Farm Bureau is hilarious it also points out how dangerous sink holes can be…

In 1993 a 100 foot wide sink hole opened up under a hotel parking lot in Atlanta Georgia that killed two people and destroyed four dozen cars. On July 14 2001, after 4 days of severe rains in Hernando County Florida, eighteen sinkholes, the largest of which measured eighty feet across and over one hundred feet deep opened up in a two day period. No one was injured but one emergency worker narrowly escaped injury when the earth sank beneath him as he was clearing debris with a backhoe.

The holes in our lives we have labeled depression, anger, weariness, fairness, loss and brokenness, may not open as suddenly as sink holes but they are as dangerous and sometimes as deep. And, whether you are a person caught in the throes of depression or a goat tied to a railroad tie, they can be easy to fall into, mighty difficult to climb out of and especially hard to fill to prevent further falling.

Our text for today speaks about the incredible hole that Paul, Silas and company found themselves in while serving God in Philippi. No doubt for the average person, for most of us, if this happened to us this hole would have broke us. Yet how on earth could a beaten man sing songs and praise God? The reality is that it is possible in midst of our worst situations for God to fill us with praise. Our response is to praise the Lord, to let out what HE has placed within. It is better out than in!! The Apostle Paul knew there was power in praise, so lets look and see just what Praising the God can do, because I believe friends – that no matter what holes we happen to stumble across in life the key to climbing out of those holes and filling them up is found in simply understanding the power of praise…

THE POWER OF…

I. Praising the Lord brings reality into focus

A. Reality is not necessarily just what’s on the surface!
1. The Apostle Paul’s present condition: Tell the whole story as found in our text. Focus on the negative (Verses 19-24).

2. What might be our present circumstances: good or ill?


B. Reality is and should be focused on God!

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18 (NIV)

Note the Apostle Paul’s reaction to his circumstances (verse 25!)

Acts 16:25 (NIV)
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

No wonder Paul later wrote in the introduction to his letter to the Philippians,

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

No matter what we face in life, the believer has the assurance of the reality of God’s presence. Forgetting that reality makes it easy to succumb to despair and hopelessness – remembering this leads to gratefulness and praise.

The power of praising the Lord brings Reality into focus.

THE POWER OF…

II. Praising the Lord brings freedom from bondage (vv. 26)

26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.— Acts 16:26 (NIV)

A. Praise brings about supernatural EVENTS.
Listen carefully… because Paul and Silas sang Hymns of praise, God had an open avenue into their circumstances.

There was a violent earthquake, the prison doors flew open and the chains fell off. Is this a natural occurrence?

Do you remember the story of the Battle of Jericho (Joshua 6: 6-20; especially verses 6, 14, and 20)?

Joshua 6:6,14,20 (NIV)
6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the LORD and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. 20 When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.

What caused the walls to fall, 7 days of Marching around the city? Was it 7 days of the 7 priests blowing trumpets? OR WAS IT THE PRAISE OF THE PEOPLE AS THEY SHOUTED TO THE LORD? AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN!

B. Praise brings personal freedom!
Paul’s chains fell off!
– Talk about emotional freedom (Paul and Silas could have been held in bondage to fear, bitterness, rage, depression, self-pity, anger etc.)

Not only does praise bring personal freedom in affecting individuals but also…

C. Praise brings corporate freedom
Every one in the prison was now free! Good and Bad are freed! People who knew Christ as Lord were Freed! People who had just heard the Praise of the living God were Freed!!

Is amazing to me but when you Praise God you are not only ushering in personal freedom but YOU are also having an affect on those around you.

The Power of Praise brings freedom from bondage!

THE POWER OF…

III. Praising GOD is a vehicle of salvation to the lost

27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family. 35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
— Acts 16: 27-36 (NIV)

A. Praise brings questions!
One of the most famous question in all of Scripture: “What Must I Do To Be Saved (Verse 30)?”

A man in fear for his life had seen some incredible things on third shift. Beaten, imprisoned men sang about a Savior. Something supernatural had happened. God became real and this jailer did not know this God

What example do we set? Does it cause anyone to notice at all, or do we just complain and gripe like the rest of the world? How do we respond to the struggles of life – in faith or in frustration? If we pull a “Job” or a “Paul & Silas”, we will respond in faith and others will see and ask the most important question of their entire life: “WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?” – What must I do to climb out this hole that I am in? What must I do to fill the hole in my life? What can I do to experience that joy in my life?

B. Praise reveals the answer!
When Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (verse 31), was he just blowing smoke, or did he BELIEVE IT?

WHAT HAD JUST TRANSPIRED IN HIS OWN IMMEDIATE LIFE?!? He had just been saved! There is a physical and a spiritual dimension here. Paul found Jesus on the road to Damascus, (Acts chapter 9) and he believed in Him. Now, not only was Paul physically saved from death and imprisonment, but how do you think his faith was effected by this miracle? Paul was living proof of what Jesus can do!

What was the net effect? Not only did the jailer come to know the Lord, his whole family was freed from the bondage of sin and death. Personal and corporate Salvation was experienced by the Lost!

One Last thought: look at verse 34. Read between the lines. What do you believe to be the response of our New Convert to the faith? I believe he PRAISED THE LORD!

Acts 16:34 (NIV)
34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family.

CONCLUSION

What keeps you from praising the lord with your whole life? What keeps you from being a living model of praise so that the world might know? Are you willing to praise the Lord even in the midst of the holes you find yourself in?

The Power of Praise brings reality into focus, brings freedom from bondage, and is a vehicle of salvation…

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer.

“She has no idea what I’m feeling,” thought Sandra with a shudder.

Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an air bag that saved her life but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, may I help you?” The shop clerk’s approach startled her.

“I….I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.

“For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving “Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”

Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Then the door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi, Barbara…let me get your order.”

She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses; Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped: there were no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

Sandra watched for the customer’s response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

“Yes, please,” Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh….she just left with no flowers!”

“Right, said the clerk, “I cut off the flowers. That’s the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”

“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!” exclaimed Sandra.

“Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk. “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.”

“That same year I had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.

“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for good things in life and never to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”

Just then someone else walked in the shop.

“Hey, Phil!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement…twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems,” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra incredulously. “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”

“No…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied. “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from “thorny” times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific “problem” and give thanks for what that problem taught us.”

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special.”

I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said to the clerk. “It’s all too…fresh.”

“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don’t resent the thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment.

“I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”

“Thank you. What do I owe you?” Sarah asked.

“Nothing; nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.” The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first.”

It read:

“My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the life I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”

Praise Him for your roses, thank him for your thorns. (quoted on the website, Motivating Stories)

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